I hope you’re not a parent of a stubborn, angry, demanding teenager. Or maybe even worse, the single-parent of one. We keep thinking that if we can only endure longer, can only say the right thing, can only find the perfect person or book or movie to say the right thing, can only make up for what they’re so angry about, our teenager will suddenly get it. They’ll magically become the polite, civil, hardworking person we want them to be.
But how do we know when enough is enough and it’s time to kick them out?
Recognize when you may be still catering to, enabling or even prolonging a serious problem. How many of these signs do you see and when did they start – last week, age seven, age two, day one? These toxic, abusive teenagers:
- Must get their way about everything, no matter how trivial it seems to you. Any time you want something or ask them for something, they talk and act like you’re abusing them.
- Won’t lift a finger. They push every boundary. They will fight to the death.
- Have only style: harass you, resist everything you want, harass you or to “beat you into submission.” They’d rather harm themselves than do what you want or do things your way.
- Expect you to help them or bail them out when they’ve messed up – no matter how badly they just treated you. They think they’re entitled to whatever they want. You’re responsible for making their life work. They think their need is more important than your feelings.
- Use threats or overt physical violence toward you, your pets, your favorite or necessary equipment.
They remind me of the spoiled, entitled brats, like Veruka Salt, in “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
Some reasons why parents put up with this nasty behavior from their children even though they wouldn’t let any friends or anyone in the workplace abuse them that way are:
- They think it’s normal behavior for modern teenagers.
- Blame and guilt – especially single parents, who feel they caused their little darlings psychological damage and protecting, catering and enabling them is the way to make up for it.
- Accept their teenager’s excuses – “If only you do everything I want and give me everything I say I need, I’ll be happy, nice and successful.”
- Fear – if parents don’t give in, arrogant and needy teenager won’t love them, or their weak and fragile teenager will go to live with the divorced parent, or will hurt somebody or fail at life and end up on the streets, a loser or dead.
- Shame – if they kicked the kids out it would be morally wrong, show the kid they really don’t like him or be seen by friends, neighbors or relatives as a failure.
- Magical thinking – parents hope that if they let the abuse continue, one magic day, their darling babies (young adults) will get it and become instantly wonderful.
When is enough, enough? Any behavior on the first list, if done repeatedly. Also if the teenager:
- Pushes any and every boundary.
- Relentlessly, sarcastically demeans you to your face in private or public.
- Runs up your credit card,
- Ruins your car even though they need it
- Blames you and lies when the police come.
What can you do, depending on the teenager’s age, sex and whether he has any disabilities?
- Plant seeds. Remind him of his potential and your belief in him. Nourish him with stories of people who created great lives despite problems far worse than his. Feed him biographies of great people. Tell him to choose to be invulnerable!
- Tell him that he needs a second strategy to get what he wants in life. Stop focusing on getting what he wants from his parents and start focusing on getting it from the world. Focusing on his parents is a waste of his time and energy.
- Tell him that while he already knows how to get what he wants by beating people (you) into submission, he needs to learn how be so likeable that people will be willing to give him what he wants. To demonstrate that message, make clear that you might consider giving him what he wants if he makes it fun for you and that you’ll never give him if he tries beating it out of you – verbally or physically.
- Stop begging or bribing him. Do not seek his agreement or permission to set high standards or have consequences you want.
- Kick him out of the nest and let the world teach him. He won’t listen to you any more. Let him fail, not have a car because he messed up yours, miss important events because you’ve grounded him, run away, try living with the other parent and get in trouble with the school or police,. And if you’re afraid, call the police (having prepared them ahead) and press charges. Let him learn that once people are older than ten years, the world pays only for performance, not potential, promises or excuses. There are not an infinite number of chances and he can’t re-negotiate everything when he wants.
- Don’t bully yourself – your teenager is now responsible for his attitudes, decisions and actions. Your teenager, like all of us, faces a choice: be a loser with a good excuse (“I was treated badly as a kid, I don’t get the breaks, my behavior is someone else’s fault – parents or teachers”) or be a winner no matter what
When you don’t require good performance, set and maintain strong boundaries and rules in your environment or punish him, the secret message your teenager gets is that you think he’s too weak and fragile to succeed.
This is a test of the strength of your commitment to the potential you see in him. You’re setting a good example of someone who won’t allow a toxic polluter in her environment; even when that destroyer is your blood. Good behavior counts more than bad blood.
This is a test of how far gone he is – how weak, narcissistic or crazy.
In my coaching with people around the world, I’ve seen that if you don’t require high standards you’re guaranteeing that your teenager will not turn around. If you set boundaries, demand respect and have strong consequences that are not negotiable, then he has a chance of turning around and you can have hope. At first, many of these kids thrash around and protest the new rules, but then they get it.
If he continues to fight you as if it’s life-or-death, that tells you that there is a very serious problem. You should treat it as such and think carefully about how to protect yourself from his hostility and bullying. Prepare for worst case scenarios
Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps. Call me to design a plan that fits you and your situation. And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.